Migrants lead cricket charge in Sweden

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STOCKHOLM: Wooden bats and red balls are taking over Sweden’s fields: cricket is booming in the Scandinavian country thanks to Afghan and Pakistani migrants who’ve found a way to reconnect with their roots.

In a country where ice hockey reigns supreme, cricket was barely seen here 10 years ago. But it has exploded in popularity recently and now boasts 65 teams in towns across Sweden.

“Three or four years ago, we had only 13 clubs in Sweden and the number of players was around 600 or 700,” said Tariq Zuwak, chairman of the Swedish Cricket Federation.

With four divisions, the federation now counts more than 2,000 players: half have acquired Swedish citizenship, the other half are still waiting. Just a handful of members were born in Sweden.

With the visor of his cap shading his eyes from the sun, his face showing signs of exertion after a match, 18-year-old Saeed Ahmed is one of the recently arrived players.

He began playing cricket as a young boy in his native Afghanistan. Arriving in Sweden in 2015 after a perilous and exhausting journey, signing up with a cricket team was a top priority.

Hard work pays off

Ahmed hopes to improve his game even further.

On this unusually hot spring day in central Stockholm, he needs just 30 minutes to prove to Under-19s coach David Williman that his hard work is paying off.

“It was tough,” admits Ahmed, originally from Jalalabad in eastern Nangarhar province.

And no wonder: the young Afghan has just played against one of the best known cricket teams in the world: London’s Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) which holds worldwide responsibility for the sport’s rules, known as Laws.

The MCC team is in Sweden to instruct players on the official rules of the game, played by millions of people, predominantly in Britain’s former colonies in Asia.

Facing off against the “Real Madrid of cricket”, as the Swedes jokingly call MCC on the sidelines, they lose the game but have a blast nonetheless.—AFP

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